While living in undisclosed aforementioned rural town, I discovered that there was a Buddhist monastery in the same zip code. And they were having an open house. This thrilled me more than anything had in the previous few months. Basic cable and Whole Foods paled in comparison to the possibility of wandering around a monastery and meeting some enlightened monks.
I know this is sheer nerdery. This is not lost on me. During my teen years, when other girls were doing all the usual (like getting boyfriends) I was trying to decide where to set up my meditation cushion and purchasing books about Tibetan Buddhism with the money I earned working at a housewares store at the mall. This was all in complete secrecy of course out of fear that my mother would think that I was godless and my siblings would make fun of me and tell mom. You could find me on a sunny day, suntanning in the backyard and reading a book about a Canadian woman who ventured to Bhutan and lived out most of her days as a monk between my issues of Seventeen Magazine. Yes, the perfect blending of consumerism and learning how to be constantly dissatisfied and non-attachment and radical acceptance. Bhutan has been in my daydreams since this time. Who wouldn’t want to go to this little country by Nepal who measures Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product? I learned alot from my readings and to this day love to use mindfulness skills in therapy. Mindfulness is invaluable and I honestly think it has saved my ass.
I got home that evening and announced to Jay my exciting find, fully expecting to be ridiculed get an eye roll, a heavy sigh, and to be told “You are such a hippy.” Much to my surprise Jay said that he would go with me to the open house. This was a complete shock, as Jay usually avoids any potentially awkward situation at all costs. Little did we know, this agreement launched into motion probably the most awkward Saturday morning of our relationship.
When the morning arrived, we were both feeling really nervous. “Will the monks like us?” “Will the monks think that were idiots?” Seriously, we were concerned that people who practice non-judgment for a living were going to take one look at us and tell us to hit the road. Naturally we drank too much coffee and sent our anticipatory anxiety skyrocketing. We arrived late to the monastery which added to our fears of the monk’s judgments. According to the schedule, we were supposed to meet in a room for meditation. We trekked up a muddy hellaciously steep and long hill. By the time we reached the lodge I was sweaty and breathing like a pregnant rhino. We walked through the door into a room of, oh about 20 or so, people meditating. The room was dead silent. You could cut the theta waves with a knife. We scrambled around trying to find somewhere to put our shoes, and as quietly as possible take off our coats. You could hear every little sound, every movement. Each one of my labored rhino inhales. Then we had to try and sneak around all these zen meditators who were trying to focus on nothing but the present moment. We sit towards the front between two uncomfortably close rows of visitors and monks sprinkled in. My cushion is the size of a doily and Jay is so cramped his knees are up in his face. We tried to settle in and quiet. My stomach started grumbling louder than it ever does, and I could hear Jay’s bowels churning next to me. My leg instantly fell asleep and when I tried to shift to a more comfortable position, I kicked the monk in front of me.
Looking around at the monks, I noticed that they were all women. In the usual monk style, their heads were shaved and they were clothed in orange robes. Most of the monks looked middle aged or older except for a few younger ones. There was even a monk with some pretty sweet forearm tattoos from her previous non-monastic life. She almost looked like a character from Orange is the New Black, switch the orange coveralls for a robe. I noticed really beautiful tapestries on the wall. There was a big smiling Buddha at the front of the room. I started to settle in, getting ready for meditation.
Then the chanting started. This wasn’t your run of the mill, monks chanting “OM,” oh no, this was sing chanting, which unfortunately felt really embarrassing. The monk leading the meditation read from a book and everyone in the room began to sing chant very quickly. How did everyone know this chant? Why the singing? When I get nervous, I laugh. The more inappropriate it is to laugh in any given situation, the stronger the urge becomes.This used to get me in trouble whenever I had a class in high school with my cousin, my mom gathered all of my siblings and I to yell at us for something bad we did, or any time I ever had to go to church. I knew if I looked over at Jay it would all be over. I tried to look at the book and follow along, bite the inside of my lip hard, get mad at myself for laughing at a sacred spiritual practice and so on. Nothing worked. I fought my urge to scream laugh in the middle of the meditation for what felt like eternity. My Nirvana wagon had veered off the eightfold path.
After we were done meditating we were invited to go have a potluck lunch in another building. Jay and I got up to walk to lunch, and as we slowly made our way to the door I noticed no one else had moved. They were all facing the center row with their palms pressed together in front of their hearts. This was because our honored guest and teacher was walking down the isle following Jay and I. We were bumbling around like idiots when we should have waited in our spots and paid our respect to the teacher monk by letting her go first. Everyone seemed to just know these unspoken rules. Trying to be friendly with other visitors, I noticed that none of them would meet my eye contact or return a smile. The monks of course all were the picture of a wise heart. They smiled generously. We all walked in silent back down the muddy hill to the next building, and I could still barely look at Jay. When we finally made contact, he basically pleaded that we get the hell out of here now. But due to our problem with people pleasing we did not want to upset the monks by being rude. It really is funny the things that we project onto other people. At the time, monks taking it personally and getting angry because we excused ourselves didn’t seem that all far fetched.
After another awkward sing chant where I desperately tried not to laugh or look at Jay who probably was seriously considering murdering me, we were instructed to sit in silence for the first half of the lunch. The only sound was clinking silverware on plates and the annoying sounds of mastication. I knew this shouldn’t be making me feel awkward. I was supposed to carry only gratitude in my heart right? The purpose of eating in silence was so I could be fully present in the moment and the activity of eating instead of engaging in idle chatter. When we were finally allowed to talk again, I wished that the whole lunch would have been in silence. Jay and I sat next to a couple from a local white rich people town. “Yes, this is rather nice, is this your first time here?” asked the linen clad husband. Was it that obvious? Had he seen me trying to stifle the laughter and pretending to appear pensive? “Yes, well I learned to meditate while in India…” he said without waiting for me to answer and I suddenly wished I had heeded Jay’s pleas to leave the monastery when we had the chance. The wife sat pretend listening to her husband. She was draped in scarves, a Patagonia jacket and yoga pants holding her cup of tea with both hands up to her face without drinking it. Saying “mmmmm” a lot and nodding her head as if she was clinging on to every profound word he spoke. This was a couple who talked at the same time to you. They blathered on for the rest of lunch about their upper middle class privileged lifestyle.
Lunch finally came to a close, but not before we had to do more chanting. This time, the monks chanted quicker than Busta Rhymes. All by memory. It really was amazing, I just wish it hadn’t been so awkward. As soon as we broke to move onto the next building for the next activity, I looked at Jay and said “lets get out!” “Oh thank god” Jay said, “I didn’t really want to say anything because I thought you liked this!” We got in the car and drove out as fast as possible. At this point, we didn’t even care if the monks thought we were bad people, we just needed to escape so we could burst into laughter.
“Let’s just go to the Food Court and get deli food,” Jay said.
“Sounds good,” I said, enlightenment can wait.